Cecil Davis never visited Ketchikan in his 96 years on Earth. But the former B-29 bomber pilot spent many hours in "Ketchikan," far above the earth.
Davis, who died on Dec. 18, 2020, was the pilot for the "City of Ketchikan," a long-range bomber that took part in the World War II battles of Saipan and Okinawa toward the end of the war. Davis, a second lieutenant at the time, was one of the last remaining crewmembers on the "Ketchikan."
The "City of Ketchikan" was named after the First City because the plane's commander, First Lieutenant Dick Brinck, had a strong connection to the city.
Brinck was the son of longtime Ketchikan resident George Brinck. Dick Brinck was born in Anacortes, Washington in 1922. His mother died when he was young and his father remarried. Dick Brinck came to Ketchikan when he was 16 and finished high school here. He attended the University of Washington and Seattle University and joined the US Army Air Corps in 1942 and learned how to fly. His plan was to return to Ketchikan and open a float plane operation and briefly worked for both Ketchikan Air and Alaska Island Airlines after the war. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. After he left the Air Force, as a lieutenant colonel in the 1960s, he worked for Boeing for many years. Brinck died in 1993.
The City of Ketchikan had a 10- or 11-member crew, depending on the length of the mission. Cecil Davis was the primary pilot, although Brinck and at least one other member of the crew were also capable of flying the four-engine plane if necessary.
Cecil "Dave" Davis was born in 1924 in Murray, Utah and grew up on a farm in California. He was 17 when the war broke out and had to wait until he turned 18 to join a service. He didn't want to wait to be drafted and had no desire to serve in the infantry, so he went to the Naval Air Corps office in Los Angeles and passed the entrance exams. But then the recruiters decided he did not have enough mathematics education and rejected him. So, he walked down the street and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a private and was first trained as a B-17 engineer and gunner, but later went through pilot training. He was first trained to fly P-38 twin-engine fighters, but then was certified to be a pilot/commander for B-17. As the Air Corps transitioned into B-29s later in the war, he was trained as B-29 pilot.
The City of Ketchikan crew trained together at Davis-Monthon Air Base in Tucson, Arizona, beginning in July of 1945. The plan was for them to pick up their B-29 at Kearney, Nebraska, but when they arrived there, no plane was available so they were sent on to Guam, where they flew several missions on the City of Ketchikan as part of the 39th Bomb Group of the 60th Squadron of the 20th Air Force shortly before the end of the war.
In an interview in 2014, Davis said that the B-29 was an easy plane to fly — but not an easy plane to get off the ground, especially when fully loaded with nearly eight tons of ordnance. The plane's four radial engines needed a significant amount of airflow for proper cooling and that failure to get the plane up to speed soon enough often led to overheating and engine failure.
Davis said that he was preparing for his first training takeoff in a B-29 in Arizona and saw the B-29 in front of him crash on take-off. He said that carburetor problems frequently led to on board fires that were solved on later models with injection.
“It is the best three-engine bomber in the Pacific,” Davis said back in 2014, repeating a frequent joke about the B-29. “It is a triple-threat aircraft; we can bomb the enemy, strafe them with machine guns, and fall on them.”
He said the biggest challenge facing the crew was the primitive living conditions on Guam toward the end of the war.
“I had arrived fully trained in an airplane for combat but was not mentally prepared for the living conditions of the war,” Davis said in the 2014 interview. “Our toilets were slit trenches, long trenches dug into the ground about a foot wide with alkaline near them to toss in after you were finished. I realized this was paradise compared to what our infantry soldiers coped with.”
And Davis also had to learn to be careful because there will still plenty of Japanese soldiers on Guam after the Americans invaded and set up an air base.
“When taking a shower, we had someone standing near with a weapon, the Japanese would kill in order to get clothing, food, weapons and ammunition,” Davis said. “One night a Japanese lady and two Japanese soldiers were captured in our mess hall attempting to take food; later one of our drivers was shot and killed while working on his jeep in the motor pool parking lot. I always had my .45-automatic with me.”
Davis said the crew’s combat flights, from Guam to Saipan and Okinawa (more than 1,400 miles) were routine, except for one fire.
“We had departed Okinawa after a mission,” he said. “The turbo amplifiers that are directly behind (the pilot), in the engineer’s compartment caught fire. Our engineer jumped out of his seat and was doing all he could to extinguish the flames. The thick smoke was filling our cockpit and another B-29 crew who took off behind us was “goofing around” flying under us, sliding up and over us in close formation. I radioed “knock it off, we’re in trouble” and then he turned away.”
Davis said the engineer finally put the fire out and the plane returned safely to Guam.
Davis was recalled to duty during the Korean War, where he was awarded the Distinguish Flying Cross among other awards. He retired from the Air Force in 1967 as a major. He then spent 26 years flying all-across the globe for the Mission Aviation Fellowship with South America and Africa as his primary areas. He retired from that work in 1989 and moved to Israel where he and his wife lived in the Valley of Sharon for more than 25 years.
Davis' son Don said recently that his father had always wanted to visit Alaska and had even talked with Dick Brinck about the float plane operation.
"He talked about it (going to Alaska) for decades," Don Davis said recently. "He first almost made there after WWII, when he and Dick Brinck, in Seattle, WA, were in the process of setting up funds and aircraft for a float plane business in Ketchikan. But both Dick and dad were recalled for the Korean War. Dad flew in combat, Dick instead went into heavy bombardment weapons testing. Both stayed in the USAF, so the float plane business never was."
Cecil Davis was buried in Israel.